So after a rather tough border crossing, we decided to head for familiar ground in Nicaragua, returning to Hostel Paradiso on Laguna de Apoyo. We spent a couple of days there relaxing before pushing on.
Our only other stop in Nicaragua this time was at Cañon de Sumoto. Close to the Honduran border, we found a beautiful camping spot next to a river at Quinta San Rafael. We explored the canyon by foot although we turned down an offer by some boys to ride their horse and donkey. The small horse and tiny donkey did not seem up the task of carrying us. We were also able to entertain ourselves watching the horses and chickens mow the grass. This was a nice change of pace from the incessant noise of grass trimmers and chain saws that we have been plagued by in the past. The field next door was being cultivated, first by tractor and disc and then again completely by oxen and wooden plow. I can only assume that the mechanized effort just wasn’t good enough. I am often charmed by the combination of old and new that we have seen throughout Central America. True to form, while I was taking a picture of the ox team at work, the farmer stopped in the middle of the field to take a cell call.
After two less than stellar border crossings (9.5 and 5 hours, respectively), it was time to change strategy. Boldly, I abandoned my lucky border crossing shirt (perhaps all the luck had been bleached out by the sun) and it worked! Our entire crossing from Nicaragua to Honduras took less than 1½ hours (a new record) and that even included an extra 15 minutes or so by a very courteous quarantine agent trying to save us $10 by allowing us to just get a transit permit instead of an annual import permit for Chester. Amazingly I now have a new “lucky border crossing shirt”. Perhaps I should try to keep it out of the sun…
Honduras gets a pretty bad rap as a place to visit and we had spent just a little over 24 hours in it on the way down because of that. Unfortunately, we were going to have to rush through it again but hoped to see at least a few more things.
Because of the quick border crossing, we were able to put in a long day driving. We passed the outskirts Tegucigalpa, the capital city, and saw both extremely luxurious and extremely poor areas. This city has an only slightly better reputation than San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ other major city which was recently made famous (or infamous) for being named the murder capital of the world. Unfortunately drug wars and corruption have hit this country hard and it was disturbing to see the huge expanse of city slums. The urban poor areas seem so much worse than any of the rural poverty we have seen. With the filth and congestion, the poverty is undeniable. People seem to have a defeated air about them.
In the rural areas, there may not be much money, but there are pleasant, if simple, homes and food is cheap and plentiful. People seem friendly and happy. Although most of the farms we have seen are small family operations, factory farms are clearly starting to creep in, even in Honduras. It’s sad to see this way of life changing and see so many of the world’s poor drawn to large cities.
We made our first stop at a Balanario San Francisco, a swimming park not far from the city. It would have been a pretty uneventful stay if not for the entertainment provided by the curious cows…more than once wandering well into Chester’s comfort zone.
Our next stop was at Finca Glorias, a combination hotel resort and farm. We camped in an orange grove and enjoyed watching the ranch hands exercise the riding horses in the morning.
While there, we ventured out to Pulhapanzak waterfalls. The falls themselves were stunning and we stayed long enough to enjoy a picnic lunch while there. On our way back to camp, we had stopped in town for gas and decided to get an oil change while we were there. After it was done, the mechanic asked if we wanted a car wash and when we first refused, he explained that it came free with the oil change. The same man that changed the oil in our truck returned with pressure sprayer, a bucket of soapy water, some cloths and a lot of elbow grease. He quickly got to work and tackled both the truck and camper. We have not washed the truck since we left Canada (over eight months ago now) and it was really dirty. It was less than $40 for the oil change but since this included the best carwash I’ve had in years, we decided that a tip was in order. The truck is looking good but I doubt it will last.
We moved on to Copan Ruinas for our last stop in Honduras. We had leads on a couple of possible campsites but these left a bit (okay, a lot) to be desired. We decided to head into town to search out hotel options but a low entrance sign stopped us. The camper was too tall to fit underneath and, as we were attempting to back up to turn around a man jumped into the street to help direct us. As soon as he got us straightened out he asked if we needed a room in town. We explained that:
a) It didn’t appear that we could get into town,
b) We needed a place that would accept the dog, and
c) We needed secure parking for the truck.
He offered to show us another entrance into town and get us a nice room at “his” hotel where neither Chester nor the truck would be an issue. He even promised free WiFi and hot showers. We were a little skeptical but thought we had nothing to lose. When we explained that there was no room for him in our truck cab, he hailed a tuk-tuk, hopped in and told us to follow. Our convoy wound around the other side of town, taking a circuitous route along narrow, steep cobblestone streets before arriving at the Hotel Mar Jenny. We were sold. Everything checked out as promised and the $35/night price tag even included a hearty “tipico” Honduran breakfast. As our guide turned us over to the front desk, we learned that he was not the owner or even an employee of the hotel, but just worked for tips. The staff here have been great and the town has been a very pleasant surprise. With its colonial charm and good restaurants we decided to stay for a few days.
Of course, the big attraction here is the Mayan ruins just out of town. We headed out on our first morning to explore them and, despite being a Sunday, the site was very quiet. Unlike many other similar sites in Central America there were no hawkers bothering us and only a small souvenir shop at the entrance. We hired a guide, Mauricio, who was able to make our tour more enjoyable with all his knowledge and comments. Near the entrance, the staff feed Scarlet Macaws and about thirty of them live right there. Their wings are not clipped and they fly freely amongst the ruins. Because it was cloudy, the birds were very active and we really enjoyed them. Apparently they tend to stay in the shade of the trees on hotter days. Although not as spectacular or large as some of the other sites we have visited, the Copan ruins were special because of the large amount of and excellent condition of the many carvings and hieroglyphs. The stelae spread throughout the main square tell the story of the site’s greatest ruler, “18 Rabbit”. The amazing Hieroglyphic Staircase is the longest Hieroglyphic writing in the Americas and tells the stories of several emperors. The site contains at least five significant Mayan cities built on top of each other and so buried beneath the newest pyramids are previous temples. Archeologists are exploring these by tunneling into the pyramids. Although there are many tunnels, only two are currently open to the public. We were able to see portions of an ancient temple in one of these and a complete reconstruction of this temple is on display in the on-site museum. Along with this reconstruction, the museum contains many of the best preserved statues and carvings from the site. We both noted, with a little surprise, that Copan appears to be the most professionally and well curated of the ancient sites that we have visited. Congratulations to Honduras and their partners for doing such a good job.
On the recommendation of the hotel staff, we went for supper at Llama del Bosque, the oldest restaurant in town and were treated to some excellent Honduran cuisine. We have also tried other places to eat in town and have very pleased.
While in Copan, we also visited the Macaw Mountain Bird Park with numerous rescued birds including macaws, parrots, owls and hawks, but the real show stealers were the toucans. We were able to enter there enclosure and they seemed to enjoy the interaction with humans.
Although we have skirted by Honduras’ notorious cities, we found the country to be beautiful, the people friendly and helpful, and the facilities very good. We are both wishing we had a little more time to spend to get to know the country but it is unfortunately time to move on.
As an update, we are now over 1/3 of the way through Sober January and still on the wagon. It hurts to pass on the incredibly low rum prices here and we chose not to stay at the microbrewery, which otherwise would have been on our agenda, but all for a good cause (?).